Who’s the real Bruce Wayne? A man who fights crime at night with fear and internalised rage? A billionaire philanthropist that works tirelessly to be the humanitarian that Gotham needs? Or someone caught in the middle of those two personas and driven by a dark history to see that the city that claimed the lives of his parents would always have a guardian who could be the symbol that Gotham needs.
That’s the idea behind Telltale’s Batman game, a new series which focuses on Bruce Wayne and life beyond his normal nocturnal activities. And that makes for an interesting spin on yet another Batman game. While Rocksteady’s Arkham series put the spotlight on creating the ultimate Batman simulator with narrative added to pad fight scenes out, Telltale is flipping the script and going in the completely opposite direction for their take on the caped crusader.
And it works.
Episode 1: Realm of Shadows
Another action-packed Batman game isn’t exactly needed right now, not after Rocksteady essentially raised the bar with Arkham Knight and its superbly polished gameplay. Telltale’s Batman instead works better with a Batman who is still new to the vigilante scene. A dark knight that the police see as an unstable menace and that criminals fear thanks to a trail of broken bones inflicted by a nocturnal nightmare on the streets.
And somewhere between all of this, Bruce Wayne is caught in the middle as he struggles to balance his burning desire for justice and the hate inside of him for the type of crime that stole his childhood away from him. It’s an interesting mix, a powder keg that quickly pushes the dark knight into situations where he has to choose between being a brutal avenger of the night or an actual hero that can inspire Gotham.
Even better, there’s some actual effort on making each scene in episode 1, A Realm of Shadows, feel somewhat unique. Whether it’s some retro detective work as you piece a crime scene together, plan an attack before you deal with a heavyweight threat or even some quick-time events that aren’t distracting from the action unfolding on the screen in front of you, Telltale is playing with plenty of ideas here to make their caped crusader stand out.
All of this is still anchored by Telltale’s conversational moments, which set the scene for the events to come. It’s something that we’ve seen so far in The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones from that developer, creating a sense of intrigue and mystery as you deal with social dangers. It’s not perfect mind you, as several Batman tropes make themselves known early on when the story begins to drag in the first half.
Some heavy-handed exposition, a touch of obvious foresight regarding Harvey Dent and Alfred insisting that Bruce Wayne can’t be Batman forever (heh) are all ideas that we’ve seen before. But when the second half of the episode kicks in, Telltale shines. There’s a deeper mystery at play here, with a war of words that sets the tone for the episodes still to come as deception and theatricality become powerful tools. But it’s a battle that needs Bruce Wayne more than it does the Batman.
Batman may be the star here but Telltale is succeeding at creating not only a more human Bruce Wayne, but a person that we want to see more of in the weeks to come as they push him forward to either be a saviour or Gotham’s greatest nightmare.
Last Updated: August 4, 2016